by Karen B. Moore
What happens when you’re rejected by every college you apply to? If you’re Bartleby Gaines in “Accepted,” you create a college website, mail yourself an acceptance letter, and bask in your parents’ approval.
Dr. Robert French, ESF’s vice president for enrollment management and marketing, and Rocco Feola, admissions advisor, sat in judgment on this comedy of escalating events.
The first movie mistake, said Feola, is the one-page acceptance letter Bartleby sends himself.
“If you’re going to send yourself an acceptance letter, make sure it’s more than one page,” he said.
French agreed. “Generally, denial letters are one page,” he said. “They’re pretty understanding, but they get right to the point. Acceptance letters are most often accompanied by other documents telling you what to do for housing, registration, or other requirements.”
“There are so many intricate details that go along with admission,” said Feola. “It’s a process, but somehow everything magically happens in the movie.”
There’s a problem with the college website Bartleby had built to fool his parents. It states “acceptance is only a click away.” It doesn’t take long before college student rejects from across the nation are clicking and getting accepted to a college they don’t know is a fake. Maybe the school’s name and corresponding initials — South Harmon Institute of Technology — should have been their first clue that things were not on the up and up.
Flush with pride about their son’s acceptance, Bartleby’s parents want to see the campus. So what’s a boy to do but take over an abandoned mental hospital, renovate it and call it his college? When his parents then want to meet the dean of students, Bartleby hires a friend’s eccentric uncle to pose as the dean.
A few days later, as hundreds of accepted students show up and begin handing over thousands of dollars in tuition, they discover that South Harmon actually has no faculty. They find this rather inspiring, and decide to develop their own degree programs built around personal interests.
“I found it interesting that no one needed financial aid,” said Feola.
Regarding the do-it-yourself curriculum, French said, “There are certainly institutions that give students a great deal of flexibility to design their own programs. There are some colleges that say you need a certain number of credits but beyond that are very loose with how they are filled. There are individualized degree programs where you sit down with a faculty advisor and they sign off on your set of courses, so the self-designed curriculum that the students pursue in the movie really isn’t as far fetched as you might think. But the idea of also completing every course on an ungraded independent study basis would probably never fly.”
As must happen in a movie to create conflict, the fake university is exposed and its only salvation from closure is to receive accreditation. Armed with the white board where the students have doodled their self-designed coursework and following an inspiring speech by Bartleby on the merits of independent study, the local officials approve the school’s accreditation and everyone lives happily ever after.
But in the real world accreditation is a lengthy process.
“Accreditation is not easy, especially for a new college,” said French. Depending on the accreditation sought, there are different criteria that must be met, and a whiteboard portfolio of student work just isn’t going to get the job done.
“One part that did have a basis in reality was the notion of parents’ anxiety about where a student gets accepted and the need to feel their child is attending a good institution,” said French. “It’s a real concern for the parents today, and it affects the anxiety the student feels. The pressure on the part of both the prospective student and parents is real and probably a little bit greater than it has been in the past.”